Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Quite the Two-Step

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  • WH,

    It is sometimes claimed out that modern Republican dominance is unintuitive and is built on the careful exploitation of cultural issues such as religion, race, crime, immigration. et cetera. This is the "What is the Matter with Kansas" thesis. There are two ways to go about unpacking this. The first is to attack Republican supporters as bigots, using the play to the base approach used by GWB. The second is to broaden the Democrats appeal to centrist voters, building bridges across ideological and subcultural lines, the DLC approach.

    To be honest I'm just sitting here chilling with my special cookies.

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0907/5842.html
    http://www.motherjones.com/mojoblog/archives/2007/10/5806_the_democrats_best-case_senate_scenario_filibuster-proof_majority.html
    http://wizbangblue.com/2007/09/21/filibusterproof-senate-majority-within-reach-for-democrats.php
    http://blog.washingtonpost.com/thefix/2007/04/60.html

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    The long-term aim of the democrats - to the extent that political parties (esp American ones) have long-term aims - must surely be to shift the political centre to the left

    What bums me out about them as a party is their triangulation-mania. The Democratic higher-ups are such a bunch of appeasing wimps that they'll let the religious right dictate all the terms of the debate. Meh. I don't really hold out high hopes for them.

    (What they *really* need to do is get rid of the electoral college. Also, pigs need to start growing wings, stat.)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Do you, WH? There is an argument that even the threat of a filobuster can be - if judiciously applied - a powerful tool to moderate legislation (what political leader likes being publicly humiliated by members of his or her own caucus?), or prevent contentious appointments - such as some of Bush's judicial nominees - evading proper public scrutiny. Any party having a 'filibuster-proof Senate majority' (especially if the same party also controls the executive) not only marginalises the minority, but effectively neuters moderate/centrist Senators on both sides of the aisle. Which might be OK if you think moderates are a pack of pussies, and the minority are evil incarnate.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    This is the "What is the Matter with Kansas" thesis.

    Which sounds so much nicer on the book jacket than 'Snap out of it, you retarded inbreedl'. :)

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    filobuster

    noun: Isn't that a giant roll of filo pastry stuffed with an entire chicken or similar?

    verb: To make a political speech while eating a filobuster, thus making delivery slow and indistinct, and thus deliberately delaying proceedings. The filobuster has been banned in many parliamentary assemblies as an unfair debating technique.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It is sometimes claimed out that modern Republican dominance is unintuitive and is built on the careful exploitation of cultural issues such as religion, race, crime, immigration.

    What's unintuitive about that? Hasn't politics has centered around these issues since time began?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    So was I :-) You're a good example to yourself. If you can't avoid contradiction in your own beliefs (and I can't when it comes to morals), why think anyone else can?

    I think I can. I just haven't found it/expressed it yet.

    That's OK. I'm still young :)

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    What's unintuitive about that?

    The exploitation is not unintuitive, its the voting pattern that results. The question is why do people from poor states (who would benefit from Democratic economic policies) vote for anti-government-services Republicans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What's_the_Matter_with_Kansas%3F

    Since Nov 2006 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Since we are trying to work out the principle we can't use the principle to do it. Again we fall back to our feelings.

    well God is dead after all- there is no ultimate justification for any moral view. We get to choose.

    but "we fall back to our feelings" - and feelings are the mechanisms evolution has provided us to enable us to work (or fight) in groups. Just like our endless ability to moralise. The moralising comes first, the morals second.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    That's the spirit, keep the dream alive. I guess I should be more clear in what I'm saying. It's not that hard to find an uncontradictory set of beliefs, but you really have to go to work on your moral intuitions to do it. And that makes it very hard convincing anyone else of those beliefs, since counter examples will abound and you'll end up sounding like any other ideologue.

    As in science, so in morality, the perfect simple self consistent theory is a dangerous thing. If we think of morality as a science then that makes the observations/experiments equate to 'how we feel about example x'. That usually means we will have data inconsistent with most simple theories. If we then seek to change how we feel, we are really just massaging the data to fit the theory. Better is to accept that each theory has some unintended consequences, and make it more sophisticated. Eventually we have a theory so sophisticated that it matches all data. It's then as accurate as our intuitions, which we had all along. Why did we bother?

    It's a real chicken and egg problem. I like Russell's take (Bertrand, that is) on it - that Philosophy is not about finding answers but learning to live with doubt. A different take on Socrates point that we know pretty much nothing for sure about these big deep problems. Both of these geniuses spent their entire lives on them, so it's nice to have a sneak preview of where it's likely to go.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    WH,

    The exploitation is not unintuitive, its the voting pattern that results....

    I got your point, was just joking really. Yes, poor people voting Republican is nuts, unless you believe what they believe, of course. That religion, race, crime, immigration are the big issues of the day and Republicans have the answers. I disagree with both points, but I do have to confess that I'm not a poor American, so how would I know?

    Neil,
    It is quite an unsatisfying moral theory, I have to confess. It reduces moralizing to the same action as a dog barking angrily over territory. Which takes away from the 'force' of moral arguments. I think the entire force of any moral argument is ultimately the chorus behind it. That does suggest that there is no 'right' morality, an unfortunate consequence if moralizing is your bag. In a beautiful circular motion, that becomes an unacceptable consequence to most people's intuition and they would rather put that ahead of reason on the matter. I find it quite hard myself when I want to moralize, until I remember "I'm not right, I'm just part of a chorus".

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • MikeE,

    Party pill ban delayed

    12.12.2007
    By MICHELE McPHERSON

    A new law banning party pills containing the chemical BZP has been delayed _ meaning they can be legally sold over the Christmas-New Year holiday period.

    The delay has happened because Parliament has run out of time for the second reading of the Misuse of Drugs (Classification of BZP) Amendment Bill.

    The bill was to become law on December 18, but the second reading of the bill could now be as far away as late January, the Bay of Plenty Times has learned.

    Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton's press secretary, Liz Grant, said because the Green Party opposes the bill, it refuses to grant it urgency in Parliament.

    "With the agreement of all parties, legislation can come before the House under urgency but if there isn't that agreement, certain legislation can be blocked," said Mrs Grant.

    Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen has announced the time taken up by the discussion surrounding the Electoral Finance Bill has meant there was a possibility Parliament may sit as late as Tuesday next week.

    The party bill law _ which bans the supply, manufacture and exporting of party pills containing BZP and makes it a Class C1 drug _ has enough support in Parliament to be passed, despite the opposition from the Greens.

    The new law will carry a penalty of up to eight years' jail. Those found simply in possession of a Class C1 drug are normally liable to a maximum of three months imprisonment and/or up to a $500 fine.

    But because pills containing BZP have been legally available for some years, the bill includes provision for an amnesty for possession of less than five grams for personal use. The amnesty will expire on June 17, 2008.

    Tauranga party pill manufacturer Gary Read is obviously supportive of the delay but refused to comment on whether he had sold the 950,000 he claimed in July his company NZ Party Pills had recently manufactured.

    Mr Read said he made a submission to the Select Committee opposing the bill. He claimed there were 52 submissions made in support of the bill and 12 against.

    Mr Read said he was not currently manufacturing party pills but could do so again at short notice.

    Mr Read is still supplying party pills to 270 retailers mostly in the North Island, 14 of which are in Tauranga, from existing stocks.

    He said people were increasingly stock-piling the pills.

    "We get that with the summer period anyway," he said.

    NZ Party Pills also sells non-BZP party pills.

    Tauranga retailer Aristocrat Adult Shop _ which sells between 20 and 30 types of party pills _ has cut back on its range since news of the ban broke but was pleased to hear sales could temporarily continue.

    "It will be good, they'll (customers) probably just keep on buying them as they normally do, all the regulars will anyway," a staff member said.

    With the proposed December 18 ban looming, a sign encouraging customers to take advantage of clearance prices on party pills hangs in the window of Mount Maunganui adult store Erox.

    Store manager Trevor Gilmour was thrilled by the news sales could continue throughout the holidays.

    http://www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz/localnews/storydisplay.cfm?storyid=3758134

    Washington DC • Since Nov 2006 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    You'd have thought Jim's press secretary would know how parliament works.

    "With the agreement of all parties, legislation can come before the House under urgency but if there isn't that agreement, certain legislation can be blocked," said Mrs Grant.

    No, urgency just needs a majority of the House, not unanimity: http://www.parliament.nz/NR/rdonlyres/078D6043-9E03-4D87-93BA-A6BB84ACC063/6619/standingorders20095.pdf

    Maybe the JAP should rename itself after a 19th century US political movement - the Jim Anderton Know Nothing Party.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Ben and Neil- I think there's a little more to it than that (tho I admire the smart way you've wrapped this up!) Empathy seems to lie at the heart of most ethics (as opposed the "handed down from on high" morality- and yeah, that's something which undoubtedly had survival advantages. (A single bipedal ape is a tasty treat; 30 of them are a problem).
    While empathy isn't a principle, it does seem to me to underly most of the core of ethical intuitions- and thus, behaviour- I'd personally like to endorse. I'm sure you'll come up with a counter-example pronto, Ben! It sounds like you've looked at the "experimental philosophy" approach?
    (There's some great work on groups, and how they behave, that make a lot more sense of "morality" than studying the behaviour- or intuitions- of individuals. The "in-crowd/out-crowd" dynamic of tribes is also one of our worst features- we're not simple critters.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    you bet me to it Rob.

    empathy is the way out of the dilemma. and it's not reliant on reason. we generally do show concern for the well being of others - and that does have an evolutionary basis. but some people have less than others and some poeple have none at all.

    some of our problems lie with stopping those that don't have empathy from getting power and other problems lie with the upscaling of psycho-social abilitites, that were developed in the context of small groups, to societies with millions of people. that's why politics is often so dreadful but it's a saving grace that we can do it at all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    There are many things that appear to lie 'at the heart' of most ethics, depending on whose heart you are referring to. Kant tried to catch what he thought the heart was with his 'Categorical Imperative', which is a more sophisticated Golden Rule (Do As You Would Be Done By) - "Act as if the maxim of your action were through your will to become a universal law".

    But obviously the problem arises from the non-specificity of such a method - it basically means if you could accept it being done to you, or you can accept such a universal law, or you could handle the feelings you cause in others, then that's OK. Which varies enormously between individuals and quite a lot between cultures.

    A good counterexample is the murder-suicide. What's good about that? The person has accepted on themself what they have done to another. They may even not mind if the entire planet killed itself and murdered it's wife/mother/whoever. They may be deeply empathic in doing so, you often see that with people who kill their families. They may love those they slay.

    Or you have the enemy who would expect no quarter from you either. They are following the same principle they expect of all honorable warriors, to fight hard until death. They'd feel cheated if you didn't do the same.

    And those are just examples which accept the spirit of the principle. The more niggly ones that show the sleight of hand which can be used in your justifications and your empathy, are also major problems for such an 'uber-principle'. Like 'I have no particular feelings about pulling my finger back at all', when holding a loaded shotgun.

    I confess to not having kept up with trends in philosophy. It's one of those subjects where after a few thousand years there are few truly new ideas. I'm sure what I'm saying was said a thousand times before the birth of Socrates. It is simply to Plato that we owe the first really detailed account of it (in the West). And if we lived by his uber-principles I think it would be a pretty violent place. Hey, wait a minute...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I accept a lot of what you're saying, Ben. If it was simple, cockroaches would do it. Ho hum.
    But I wasn't trying to head down a Kantian path at all. By nature or nurture I'm more of a Humeanist sceptic, heh.
    And calling most "murderer-suicides" "empathetic" is a stretch. ;-) Not minding if the whole planet kills itself seems like a grand definition for lacking all empathy. Empathy is precisely the key to pulling oneself away from thinking "I want that, therefore X must also want it."
    However... I do think "experimental philosophy" is a truely new idea. I'm not saying it's a good one, just that what I've read (not much) involved trying to do something like

    If we think of morality as a science then that makes the observations/experiments equate to 'how we feel about example x'. That usually means we will have data inconsistent with most simple theories.

    with some quite surprising results.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    I hadn't come across Experimental Philosophy before so some time I’ll try and read what's on that site.

    I read more on cognitive psychology but have read some philosophy and have been thinking that philosophy must surely be able to do a lot with recent developments in cognitive psychology and neuroscience - especially now that there is almost real-time imagining of many thought processes.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    It doesn't lack empathy if you feel it yourself, but do it anyway. Which is just to say that empathy is not a good guide. If you want to define empathy more carefully, sure. Beware the long dark path from which the word 'Empathy' may emerge unrecognizable, though.

    Empathy means seeing or feeling it from the other person's side. Which I think is important, but not enough. The other person's point of view may be totally wrong. You may be unable to see it that way. Or you may be deluded into thinking you have. Or, having seen it correctly, you still disagree, and think their point of view is lacks empathy.

    If what I'm saying overlaps with Experimental Philosophy, it's an accident. Actually my thoughts on this are most inspired by what I've read about Zen Buddhism, but that's just my mind working in it's own weird way. But thx for the link, it seems quite interesting, I agree.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Reading further, that indeed is some interesting shit. Perhaps I'm being an arse, but the idea of sampling around for ideas of moral behaviour is something I first remember coming across in first year, in a description of some pre-Socratic philosopher, who toured the ancient Mediterranean inquiring into their morals and beliefs, and was very surprised to find how much different they were, for which he gave numerous examples. So like I say, a lot of ideas are older than you think.

    But surveying a systematic cross-section of philosophical questions and analysing the demography of the answers? That's a cool idea. As <pre-Socratic guy> said, the answers vary hugely depending where the people come from.

    There's obvious overlap with psychology and various other disciplines in there, but this is totally inevitable in any interesting questions in philosophy. If they ever actually discover anything (and that is becoming rarer all the time), then it rapidly becomes a science. Philosophy as the holes in science? I don't know. "What is Philosophy?" is that question you spend a lifetime answering, many have.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    I don't quite understand your point, Ben, but I'm ready to back carefully away from this, probably out the fire-escape door, not looking backwards, towards where the fire-escape used to be before they ripped it out to put up a post-modern "victorian" facade I can bounce off in my fall to the pavement.
    Just to say, I wasn't actually positing empathy as a moral principle at all- it's a phenonmenon, one of our traits, that's all. I think it's an important one when we start doing this "moral reasoning thing". That doesn't mean I think there's a grand uniting moral principle out there, awaiting discovery by a moral Starship Enterprise, full of philosophy graduates and heinecken.
    For me, it's a trait I find useful- certainly not infallible!- in trying to work out which of my moral intuitions are based on authority, habit, or the "yuck factor"- and which based on something I value more deeply. I don't think I'm alone there, but maybe we're all alone, eh?
    Argggh!

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    oops, cross-posting!
    yeah, i get the "nothing new" feeling myself. not since hume, who single-handed (heh, feel free to disagree!) drove a stake thru philosphy's heart!
    then some bastard does something new with an old thing, and ahem we have to keep turning the compast to get rilly good dirt!

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Aha, soz then. So you were getting me more than I thought. In that case, yes I entirely agree that even bothering with morals at all could have root cause in empathy. Or you could even consider empathy to be instinctive morality.

    Hume was great, I agree, although I find Popper's response to his Problem of Induction quite strong.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison,

    Empathy means seeing or feeling it from the other person's side. Which I think is important, but not enough. The other person's point of view may be totally wrong. You may be unable to see it that way. Or you may be deluded into thinking you have. Or, having seen it correctly, you still disagree, and think their point of view is lacks empathy.

    what I find interesting is how empathy is not an abstraction but a product of brain function, mirror neurons etc - the ability to imagine the mental state of another person, a pre-requisite for empathy, is an ability that can be located as a process in the brain that was selected for. So looking at how the expression of empathy varies within a population would give an understanding of the general phenomena.

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I may be wrong, but I'd guess it's got a genetic component, and evolution has put non-empathic people in there for a reason, too. There are a lot of social functions which seem to give low empaths an advantage. I'm thinking warrior types work better that way. But again, whilst having no empathy might be an advantage it also may not be decisive. There are ways to suppress such feelings, and maybe in some circumstances empathy could even make you a better killer, if it gives you the ability to guess what your victim is thinking and thus likely to do.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

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